Growing board engagement: Part III – Decision-making

[This is the last in a three-part series on engaging board members. See Part I and Part II.]

Terrie Temkin
Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin


If your decisions are made by your executive committee or by rote “aye” votes at board meetings, you are not only chancing less-than-optimal results, but virtually guaranteeing the lack of true board member engagement.

Good decisions generally require research, multiple options, different viewpoints, questions and clarification; which in turn require board members who are involved and (respectfully) in each other’s faces – in other words, engaged.

When confronted with a decision to make, begin by determining your criteria for success. How will the group know that they made the “right” decision? At the top of the list should be congruence with your vision and values.

Once you have these criteria, insist on generating multiple options.

This increases the probability that the solution you choose is ultimately the best for the organization. It also encourages input from more people.

You can jumpstart the generation of multiple options by asking board members to take different points of view, such as the client’s or a funder’s. This will not only involve them, but focus their discussion.

Another technique is to give everyone a few minutes to jot down ideas in silence, then go around the table and ask everyone for their input. This invites participation of even the more reticent individuals.

As the group sees valuable ideas emerging from people who normally don’t speak up, they will begin pushing for more involvement of everyone.

Measure your options against your criteria for success. Consider the pros, cons and potential consequences of each.

If you still can’t agree on the approach to take, go back and review your goals. Confirm that you are all on the same page. Don’t assume that silence means agreement. Then put aside the options already on the table and brainstorm new ones.

Still can’t agree? Determine if you can come to partial agreement or are willing to give one of the solutions a try for a time-limited period.

The important thing is to make a decision and carry it through. People disengage when they feel that all they do is talk and that nothing ever happens to move the organization forward.

If you have to table a decision, determine the data you feel are lacking, assign someone to gather and disseminate this information and immediately calendar the meeting at which the recommendation will be put up again for a final vote.

Use action minutes to record your decisions and remind people of the commitments they made. Get back to them with what happened as a result of their work and thank them for their efforts. In these ways you reinforce the need for and benefits of engagement.

The ideas presented here and in the previous two articles create cohesive teams that look forward to coming to meetings and doing important work. And, after all, that’s what engagement is all about.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, purchase the webinar recording presented by this author.

Terrie Temkin is a governance and planning expert and founding principal of CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc., which interweaves governance, board development, fund development, PR/marketing and public policy to strengthen organizational capacity. Contact her at 888-458-4351 Ext. 3 or

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